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Ward wants fresh start

Derby forward Jamie Ward is hoping he can kick-start his Northern Ireland career against Russia on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old made his international debut as a late substitute against the Faroe Islands in August 2011 - a match more likely to be remembered by fans as the team's last victory - but has made just three more appearances since then.

Manager Michael O'Neill rates Ward highly but the player has been absent from a handful of squads and withdrawn from others due to a variety of niggles and fitness issues, denying him a consistent run.

He made his only start against Russia in Moscow last September and hopes to get another chance to showcase his skills in the return fixture at Windsor Park.

"I've obviously had a few injuries which have put my international career back a bit, but I've played a little under Michael and that's a start," he said.

"I am feeling better than the previous campaign. When I have been doing well at club level I have always had a little niggle coming into international games and that's the most frustrating thing of the past 18 months."

Northern Ireland have been on the lookout for a reliable attacking threat ever since record goalscorer David Healy stopped being a first choice and O'Neill is still casting around for an attacking foil to target man Kyle Lafferty.

Martin Paterson, Will Grigg and Billy McKay are the other strikers in contention at Windsor Park but if Ward does get the nod, he believes he has plenty to bring to the side.

"I have a little bit of pace about myself, maybe a bit of attacking flair and I can score goals given chances," he said.

"Given the right service hopefully I can score goals. I don't really mind where I play to be honest, if I play wide I would prefer to play on the left side but I also enjoy playing up front in the two.

"But at the end of the day I just try and do a job for the team. Hopefully if I play or start I will get a bit more of the ball and play a more attacking game."

O'Neill has yet to taste victory in nine matches since taking over from Nigel Worthington and odds are against him getting one over on opposite number Fabio Capello this time.

Fans may fear the worst against a side who have won four of their five Group F matches to date, but defender Gareth McAuley has assured supporters recent frustrations are felt just as keenly among the players.

"We've been not getting results when we thought we should have but it's about not getting frustrated," he said.

"It's never nice, even worse when you're getting booed off by your own crowd. It's like you've let the whole country down really and nobody appreciates that you've run about and tried and you take that away with you. You take it to heart a bit but you can't carry it around with you."


From Belfast Telegraph